All posts for the month July | 1943 |

July 23/ 43.
The Captive.

All’s over then, the battle lost, and I

A “prisoner of war” in Alien hands.

My misery, and sorely wounded pride too deep for tears or words.

I sit and watch their reinforcements landing on my native soil.

My aching wounds and heavy heart,

In deep despair, await the order to embark,

And sail away in a prison ship to a prison camp.

Oh! Little home, I see thee now,

My wife and dark-eyed baby girl and little son,

Receding from my sight for many a day.

I leave thee now and I must wait,

In impotence, with idle hands,

While war’s deep waves roll ever nearer thee;

And haply may engulf thee in its tide.

I speak no word, I cannot. Deep despair

Has fallen on me, body and soul are one great mound of poignant misery.

Soon, I shall rise and lift my heavy load, to bear it like a man but now,

I watch the conquering foe come in.

My heart is bleeding inwardly, I see there go,

Lost hopes, lost battle and most bitter blow, lost liberty.

My cup of woe is full, I live not, but endure.

‘Italian, Captive and UNhappy’ in the Daily Mail, Friday July 23rd 1943.

‘Italian, Captive and UNhappy’ in the Daily Mail, Friday July 23rd 1943.

Following their victorious North African campaign, the Allies had turned their attention to Italy. May’s son Ron was  amongst many RAF and other military personnel who were transferred from North Africa to Italy.

‘The Captive’, an original draft, was inspired by an item ‘Italian, Captive and UNhappy’ in the Daily Mail, Friday July 23rd 1943.

The poem has been added to the poems collection on this site. It also appears in the book The Casualties Were Small which contains over twenty of May’s poems as well as selected diary extracts, including those which suggest the background to each poem, accompanied by many nostalgic photographs.

Have you read an introduction to May Hill & family (includes photographs) and explored ‘The Casualties Were Small’?

Wed July 21 8.30 A.M [1943]

Jean has gone to school and I have just had my breakfast. I am feeling better to-day and have eaten a slice of fried ham, the last of the first ham except a slice for Father and a small piece I am boiling today to be in readiness for Emmie’s cousin if she comes this week. Mist turned to fine drizzle last night (that’s what this new pen nib reminds me of. I like a Relief nib) and the air is damp this morning with poor visibility. The wolds are not in sight. Tide coming in so it may go out when the tide does. A little more sunshine would liven us up. Harvest has already started in one or two places beating any previous early record by 2 weeks.

[Aside: New era in aeronautics.] Two weeks ago the first train-ferry came from America to England, that is to say a motorless glider towed behind a plane. It made a perfect journey and landed exactly to time. I once told Miss Trevor that before we died we should see the young people get their little plane from a shed as she did her cycle, when they were going a mile or two. If we live our allotted span it looks like being true, but they may even be gliders instead of planes. That was over 15 years ago. I should think she is more credulous now, surely, than she was then.

‘Relief’ – brand name for a high quality pen nib.

Miss Trevor was presumably a long-term acquaintance in the village.

Have you read an introduction to May Hill & family (includes photographs) and explored ‘The Casualties Were Small’?

Tue July 20 8.30 P.M. [1943]

Jean stayed at Jessie’s for tea on Thurs. Had ham she says. Friday morning Father and Jean got their breakfast and brought mine before going on watch and to school. I rose about 11 o’c. Father had taken cinders out so I took mats up and sw[ept] and dusted leaving mats for Father to shake at 2 o’c. By then I was crocked up again. I let Father go to but[cher's] cart with Peter and Pe. let me have 2 tins corned beef. Said they were the last. After this it is to be corned mutton. I have heard it is very good. Expect we shall soon know. It is very misty and damp to-night, yet strange to say I feel better this last hour since the fog thickened (it was hazy all day) than I have for some days. Perhaps it has turned colder. Tom and Rene called a while since and he said it was the weather he loved with the mist wrapping round like a blanket. Well he is welcome to it, but I don’t like the clammy feel of it. Says the sea has come in up to Cousins’ bungalow again. The workmen are busy putting “kids” in the broken bank. Father says if they run a couple of rows of barbed wire across the gap it would be quite as effective! We did not have a gale with these tides so they were not so picturesque or so destructive as the Apr. tides.

I stayed in bed Sat morning and Jean brought me a letter up just before ten a.m. It was from Amy to say she and Aunt Jet (Ken came too) were coming in Tagg’s car about 12 o’clock. I got up at once and we got the oven started and cooked Sunday beef with York[shire] pud, rice p[udding] and stewed log[an]berries. Also new potatoes but we had no sec. vegetable. A. said she was bringing provisions. It proved to be tin[ned] beef and cooked bacon and some bought tarts. She had been out day before too. We managed alright and dinner was cooked in good time. Jean had got on pretty well downstairs. Father went to Hall’s for groceries and got me some cake too. I dusted down the stairs and made beds as soon as I was dressed. Room was clean as we had not been in since Wed. when I cleaned it well. They all looked fairly well, indeed very well. Aunt J is about as usual, never content but rather more frail I think. Jean managed to get Ken to the sea after dinner, but she says he is very shy. Rene took a snap of us sitting on the seat by the back door. It was very hot there in spite of the cold wind. Ken is making a rockery and took several bits of my rock plants to set on it so hope they grow.

We have a third of Sicily in our hands and a lot of prisoners. Catania still holds out. I wrote and sent a letter to Ron on Sunday. I wish he could get it by next Sun. Jul. 25 as it is the anniversary of his wedding. I must write to Emmie too this week. It doesn’t seem possible that a year has slipped by so quickly. Norman [Lammiman] is to be married next week. He is 21.

Gladys brought Eileen down this afternoon. She came with her [Harriet] Sunday night too. She is a sweet little babe and grows fast. Spot came too and Bill nearly wept when Father stroked her. Gl. brought a letter about two ladies who want to come on a visit. I wrote an answer for them to send back, though I would have preferred to deal directly with them. I set £2.2. a week for 1 b. room with 2 beds and sit. rm. and attendance. If they come it will be a little towards the rent. I can only do with them when Jean is at home in the mornings to help and she is only home from Fri. Jy. 23 to Tue Aug 17 so we’ll have to make our fortune quickly if at all! A lot of the mist has cleared. We are going to bed. Father on watch until 2 a.m. We are expecting Elsie Russell and friend some day this week.

‘Kids’ were bundles of thorny sticks, usually cut from hawthorn hedges. They were used to hold sand to build dunes with marram grass to form sea defences. ‘Kidding’ was a related local expression for collecting material for firewood sticks.

Frank Tagg was a farmer in Trusthorpe.

‘Spot’ was Herbert and Annie Faulkner’s (Eileen’s parents’) dog.

Elsie Russell was Emmie’s cousin.

Have you read an introduction to May Hill & family (includes photographs) and explored ‘The Casualties Were Small’?

Thursday July 15 1943 4.50. P.M. [1943]

St. Swithin’s Day and it’s pouring down
In a thunder-shower from the clouds
For forty days says the old wives tale
It will rain either more or less.

It is almost 5 o’clock and pouring with rain. I think it is a thunder shower tho’ I’ve heard no thunder. It has cooled the air, I believe. I feel a little relief already. The soft south-west wind completely overpowers me. I heard a few hailstones patter on the porch then. Hope it won’t rain in my bedroom window but I can’t go up. I wonder if the shed door is open, if it is it will rain right in. Expect Jean will shelter at Jessie’s. The rain will do good in the gardens if it doesn’t beat everything down. Hope it won’t “lay” the corn tho’ I should think it’s early enough to get up again yet. Rene and Tom called this morning and brought me some peas. I had to hurry then to get dinner and over-tired myself and have been done up ever since. Kitchen has not been swept or dusted.

Had a letter and a letter-card (airmail) today from Ron. Letter written Jul. 1st and card 6th. Ron in Malta when he wrote this. It’s nice to get them so quickly. The flies seem a terrible pest and he says it’s far too hot to go out unless necessary. At the bottom of his A.M. letter there is a tiny P.S. to say his parcel has arrived. [Aside: Parcel arrived on July 6 in Malta.] I can’t remember what date it was sent. He is in billets now in a village and says not to worry if he misses writing occasionally, it is not always possible to write every few days. I hope he gets his mail tho’. Said he had been reading in [Skegness] Standard about our Apr. Gale so that had been a long time on the way. It seems to have stopped raining so hope Jean won’t be long. I want her to go to Hall’s for me for Sw[eet] Nitre.

Have you read an introduction to May Hill & family (includes photographs) and explored ‘The Casualties Were Small’?

July. 14/ 43.
A Prayer for Peace.

Last night I lay upon my bed,

Hearing the ’planes pass overhead.

Some came in and some went out,

While others hovered round about.

Oh Lord, I started then to say,

But paused again, how could I pray

To God for life and safety when,

For every plane The Germans sent,

A score to them from Britain went.

It is a war for truth and right,

And we for justice hard must smite.

But oh! The little children’s tears,

The aged and the mothers’ fears,

They come between me and my prayers.

Of what more value is my life,

Than theirs in all the world’s great strife?

At last I pray if ’tis thy will,

Oh leave me with my loved ones still.

Or if the time has come to die,

Oh send death swiftly Lord I cry.

I thought [and there then] rose to mind,

The time when Herod tried to find

The Saviour Christ when he was born,

And slew between the dark and dawn,

All little children far and near,

Not knowing Jesus was not there.

These too were innocent of wrong,

But died the victims of the strong.

God saw it all and us he sees,

Fighting for right or on our knees.

Those children died and Christ was saved,

The way to life by them was paved.

Christ lived on earth his perfect life,

Then died to save the world from strife.

No one more innocent than He,

And yet He died upon the tree.


Oh send to us the knowledge Lord,

To live in peace and not by sword.

Let sacrifice be not in vain,

After this time of sin and pain.

Teach us to walk in righteousness,

And God the Trinity confess.

The poem as above appeared to be a draft and no re-written version has been found. The lower part of the double-sheet was damaged, so that the words shown in parentheses are a suggestion and two lines (……….) towards the end could not be deciphered.

At the time May wrote the poem (14th July 1943) she must have been feeling rather uneasy, having listened to news of new military action in Italy and having received Ron’s letters in which he could not reveal his own location after transferring to Malta from North Africa where the Allies had been victorious. May was unhappy that the war was taking a great toll in casualties, including civilians, on both sides, as well as spoiling the simple pleasures in life such as she expressed at times in her Diary (e.g. see 16 May 1943) “…Birds are singing, and it is so calm and quiet. War seems very far away, but that is a fallacy…”

More news of Ron’s whereabouts did emerge during August although May did not write in her Diary until the later part of the month.

The poem has been added to the poems collection on this site. It also appears in the book The Casualties Were Small which contains over twenty of May’s poems as well as selected diary extracts, including those which suggest the background to each poem, accompanied by many nostalgic photographs.

Have you read an introduction to May Hill & family (includes photographs) and explored ‘The Casualties Were Small’?

July 13. 2. a.m. [1943]

Father has just gone on watch and Jean is nearly asleep on couch. I had heard planes about for a long time and felt in my bones they were hostile. Then round about 1 o’clock DST [double summer time] I heard the guns. Very heavy so at last I woke Father. One big explosion shook the house, it may have been a plane. It is a very bright moonlight night. When Father got up at 1.20 Jean and I got up too. Fire not quite out so put a few sticks on and revived it. Will make some tea soon and if quiet go back to bed. I have been very seedy last few days, felt better to-night but weak and breathless. Father not well either. Everyone complaining of feeling over tired. I wonder how the people feel when we raid so often.

[Aside: Sicily invaded about 8 weeks after Tunis won.] We have invaded Sicily. Wonder if Frank Adams or any of the boys from here are there. Peter Kirk went on Mon to Wales, met an old school pal, Northern, on the journey going to same place. Charlie Parish has to go this week and Ted Hall goes for medical.

Planes still about but unidentified as they say in W.Bx. Guns not so frequent. Wonder if poor Grimsby is getting it again, over 100 killed last time. Had 2 letters from Ron Sat. by Air Mail. Jean’s contained photos of Ron, 1 each. They are quite good we think. He looks older but that is to be expected. He looks well, that is the main thing. It is nice to have a glimpse of him. Says he never got that corn harvested, he had to move after it got shoulder height.

Ron - 'to Dad'

Ron – ‘to Dad’

Mrs Wilson came Tue. and stayed night to attend to the cottage. She stayed up talking until nearly 12 then was up before 5 a.m. as she had to catch the 10.30 bus to Sk[egness]. She is very jolly, much plumper than she was and has aged a lot since war started. Arthur is in M.E.F. still. She laughs and jokes about him, but can tell she is anxious, he is the only child.

Our roses have been especially good this year and the white lilies too are very fine. Cant[erbury] Bells I gave Fra[nk] last year have flowered this and are huge, he brought a stalk on Sat about 3 feet high with masses of blooms, cup and saucer variety. All are deep blue, I had 3 blue and a white last year but none survived winter, even the two that did not flower died. Carnations starting to bloom, very fine. Nearly 2.30 a.m., wind freshening, do hope it won’t be a warm soft gale again to-day it really gets me down. A wicked-sounding plane about but it may be one of ours returning. Now for some tea and so to bed again.

January to July a book of patchwork pieces
Our circle is unbroken still, altho’ the beads are far apart.
Another phase of strife Mars now releases.
The last I hope. Towards victory let us start.

[The following note appeared on the inside back cover of this Diary, and probably referred to Ron’s postings (or mailing addresses) in 1943:]

                                                  June                  July
B.N.A.F      M.E.F               CMF

[British North Africa Force]

[Middle East Forces]

[Central Mediterranean Forces (Italy)]

Ken Northern had attended the Lumley Secondary School in Skegness with Peter Kirk. However the ‘pal’ might have beenr another member of that family. (Ken’s brother, Bernard, had also attended the school, as had Ron, May’s son.)

Charlie Parrish (aged about 18 at this time) had been mentioned as a Home Guard member less than two months earlier (see 29 May 1943).

Ted Hall was Doris’s brother. He was joining the Navy, like his chief petty officer father, Albert (see 16 Mar. 1942).

‘Arthur’ refers to Mrs Wilson’s son but (as previously noted) her only child was known locally as ‘Laurie’ (see 11 May 1943).

MEF – Middle East Force. The same abbreviation was used for the Middle East Land Force, but was also believed to apply to one of Ron’s RAF postings (at least for Army Post Office purposes).

Frank, here, almost certainly refers to May’s brother.

BNAF – British North Africa Force. Ron’s first RAF posting abroad came within this description.

Have you read an introduction to May Hill & family (includes photographs) and explored ‘The Casualties Were Small’?

Sat 3. July [1943]

Had 2 more recently written letters from Ron, one dated 18th and one 22nd June then yesterday 4 more! Jean’s written in June the rest in May. He is not in tents but billets now but regulations have been tightened up again. He can’t tell us where he is, nor send parcels. Says he is working hard at times, was fit and well, had been cooking until 9 p.m. one day. They get one day off in 3. It is very hot and the flies are very troublesome, said he was surrounded by the bodies of those he had killed and the others were tracing all around him. His clothes had just come back from the wash, spotless. He was so pleased, he likes nice clean clothes and hates to wash them. (We have washed Father’s khaki suit this week. Looks ok only I upset “Thawpit” bot. over it. Hope the white ring comes out.) He longs for home. I wish the war was over and he was home. There seems to be a lull just now like the calm that comes when we say the wind gathers strength for a harder blow. These sunny summer days are the last that many a lad will ever see, let us not be too hasty in wishing the sec[ond] front would start. I fear that before another June comes round many hundreds will have gone.

Had a long letter from Frank Adams. He went thro’ the last campaign in Africa from Alamein to Tunis but cannot tell us where he is now. We are so pleased he is safe. He sang “Baudelaire” to an old French couple and they said “chante tres bien” and then he sang “Tipperary” and the old man’s face lit up. He had been in the last war and recognised it at once. They rescued some rabbits and kept them some time, also 5 hens which laid every day.

Frank Adams

Frank Adams

Altho’ there are small raids in the country almost every night we do not black out now when Father is at home all night. He is on 6 days leave now. It is never really dark all night. Jean has gone to Margaret Pickers for the day.

Ron was in Malta when his letters were written, having sailed from Sfax in Tunisia to Valetta Harbour 8th – 9th June 1943, according to his own Diary (courtesy Brian R Hill).

Have you read an introduction to May Hill & family (includes photographs) and explored ‘The Casualties Were Small’?